California Civil Contempt of Court: Here’s What You Need to Know

When a court makes a final ruling on a case, there is often a court order included that must be followed by the parties to the action. These orders are not just guidelines; they are specific requirements that must be met to avoid consequences and penalties. When the court order is not followed, it is termed as being in contempt of court.

Direct contempt occurs in the presence of the court and typically includes disobedient conduct, refusal to comply with direct orders from the judge, or creating a disturbance in the courtroom. Indirect contempt occurs when one party to a court order fails to fulfill their obligations outside the presence of the judge. Let’s explore what this means in the state of California and what the implications are.

Defining Contempt Of Court

Contempt can be prosecuted criminally under Penal Code section 166 and carry with it a punishment of up to 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine.  There is another version of contempt that occurs in civil courts that also carries heavy penalties and stems from disobedience of civil court orders — typically in the family law context.

Contempt can cover a variety of actions including failure to obey a restraining order when one has been issued against you, breaking the terms of a custody and visitation agreement like refusing your former spouse the right to see your child or not returning your child after a visitation, failure to pay attorneys fees and any other willful disobedience of an order.

One of the most common indirect contempt actions is the failure to comply with child support orders. Since this is a legal requirement ordered by a court, failure to pay is much more serious than deciding to skip your credit card payment. It can result in serious consequences including incarceration.

How Is Contempt Of Court Proven?

Civil contempt is a quasi-criminal action; therefore, the burden of proof is just as high as a criminal charge. For a contempt charge to stand, the petitioning party must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a valid order existed, the contemnor knew about the order, there was a willful violation of the order and in some cases that there was an ability to comply.

Penalties For These Actions

When contempt actions are brought in civil court the potential consequences include up to 5 days in jail and a $1000 fine per count. For example, if you are accused of failing to pay child support for 12 months then you could face up to 5 days and $1000 per month that you failed to pay — potentially 60 days in jail plus $12,000 in fines.  

The Nieves Law Firm has the experience you need to defend your rights and protect you from unwarranted or unreasonable contempt charges. If you are facing a contempt charge, please do not hesitate to contact our offices right away!

Share this on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Email this to someone